Month: October 2013

2013 Book #48: A Wild Sheep Chase

wildsheepchaseThree down, one to go. That’s about how I’m feeling now: I’m Murakamied out.

But I was right: I liked A Wild Sheep Chase a lot more this time around, though I don’t think it’s for the same reason. Though Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 are about the same characters, you don’t need to have read them to enjoy or understand this one. They’re not helpful much at all, really.

At the end of Pinball, 1973, the Rat had just skipped town, and the (still) unnamed narrator had started dating the (also unnamed) girl with the magical ears. A Wild Sheep Chase is set a few years later, after the narrator and the friend with whom he started the translation company have expanded to advertising and more general publications. He’s gotten a few letters from the Rat, one of which enclosed a photo of a pasture of sheep, which the narrator used for the front cover of a bulletin from an insurance company. He gets a call from the secretary of the Boss, a very powerful but mysterious political figure, and he ends up going on a Wild Sheep Chase, looking for one specific sheep in that herd, which involves old and new characters. Fun times.

I can definitely see the progression toward Murakami-ishness, continuing from Pinball, 1973. There are, of course, cats and wells, though I’d forgotten about Murakami’s fondness of sheep – a similar creature appears in Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, my very first Murakami (which I didn’t like as much the second time around). The magical realism elements are here along with the general mysteriousness. A Wild Sheep Chase is, compared to his first two, anyway, a much better novel. Not his best, though. I keep reevaluating that issue, and I might eventually come to a decision, but Now Is Not the Time.

So. I liked A Wild Sheep Chase much more this time around, and it’s certainly worth a read either on its own or in conjunction with the others in what I’ll still call a series. I do see how this might reasonably be called a trilogy, but I’m sticking with making it all one series because it involves most of the same characters – if not all. I think I remember the next (and final!) one, Dance Dance Dance, involving the girl with the magical ears. But we’ll see. Right now, in fact.

2013 Book #47: Pinball, 1973

PinballWhew! Another book flew by. At this point, the posts you’re seeing are postdated, as I’m reading a bit to fast. I might have hit fifty before November at this rate. Anyway. On to Pinball, 1973, the second of the Rat series, whether you want to argue that it’s a trilogy or a tetralogy. I’ll wait until I’m finished with Dance Dance Dance to decide on that one. As with Hear the Wind Sing, this isn’t my first time around with Pinball, 1973. According to Goodreads, I finished this one at the end of 2009. Four years ago. I didn’t remember much.

Pinball, 1973 tells two stories that had been at least vaguely joined in Hear the Wind Sing. Our unnamed narrator, now a few years older, is living a set of mysterious twins. He can only tell them apart by their sweatshirts, labeled 208 and 209, which they switch on occasion. He and a friend own a translation service, and when he’s not working or spending time with the twins, he reminisces about an old pinball machine he liked to play at a game center in Shinjuku. He held onto the high score for a long time and eventually goes on a quest to find it. Meanwhile, the Rat hangs out in the same old bar, feeling lonely and having a strange affair with a woman, until he makes a decision about his life that I guess I shouldn’t reveal.

Between Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973, Murakami became more Murakami. You can (or at least I can) read something he’s written and quickly figure out who it is based on a clear set of markers. They weren’t so clear in Hear the Wind Sing, which was more broken and jumbled. Here, Murakami has found the narrative voice to which he sticks in his later novels – and that’s a good thing. Pinball, 1973 is a much more cohesive story. There are also more wells and cats and such. Murakami loves wells and cats like Don DeLillo loves lists.

Pinball, 1973, like A Wild Sheep Chase, isn’t dependent on the other novels, though, from my all-too-vague memories of the latter, it enhances the story. It’s still not as good as his later novels, though it’s definitely a step in the right direction. I’ll offer the same advice here that I did for Hear the Wind Sing: if you’re already a Murakami fan and are able to track these down, by all means read them. They’re worth the time. (And I’ll give you an additional hint: a simple search on your favorite torrent site will turn up pdfs and epubs of these hard-to-find books if you’re really wanting to read them. I think downloading is justifiable when they’ve never been published outside of Japan and print copies are prohibitively expensive.)

So. On to A Wild Sheep Chase. With the backstory fresh in my mind, I have a feeling that I might change my opinion this time around.

Bonus: Here’s an old blog post I wrote about Pinball, 1973 when I first read it. I wouldn’t let myself revisit that one until I wrote this post, as I wanted to see how my opinion had changed over four years.

2013 Book #46: Hear the Wind Sing

hearthewindsingThe end of the year is right around the corner, and, thankfully, so is my annual book quota. Four more to go. I have a feeling I’ll make it, especially with the little project I have planned. A couple posts ago, I said I’d like to be reading It but that I won’t let myself because it’s so long, and I want to make sure I hit fifty books. I’m also putting some space between Damned and its sequel, Doomed. That’ll probably be number fifty this year.

Anyway. The project: If you read my blog, you probably know that Haruki Murakami is one of my very favorite authors. I’ve read all of his books with only one exception, a collection of nonfiction about the Tokyo gas attack in 1995. But that’s not what I’m going to read right now. I think Wild Sheep Chase was the second Murakami book I read (back in 2007!), and I didn’t like it. After reading all the others, I’m surprised at that, so I’ve been planning on rereading it. Part of the problem, I think, was that it’s third in a series of four. (Okay, that’s not official: according to Ye Olde Wikipedia, it’s the first in a trilogy called Trilogy of the Rat, and the fourth, Dance Dance Dance is a sequel to Wild Sheep Chase since it isn’t really about the Rat. Goodreads seems to think differently.) It works as a standalone novel, though, so I wasn’t lost. The first two, Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973, have never been published in the United States, and they’ve only been published in English for the purpose of helping Japanese native speakers learn how to read English. They’re not easy to come by over here and cost upwards of $50 each on Amazon, though I don’t think I paid that much. I’ve had them for a few years now: I read this very copy of Hear the Wind Sing in 2008, according to Goodreads.

So I bet you can guess the (small) project. The plan is to read Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 before giving Wild Sheep Chase another shot. I’ll throw in the last novel, Dance Dance Dance, for good measure. The added benefit of this (what do you call a series of four books? – Update: a tetralogy! Thanks, New Yorker!) series is that they’re all pretty short. Hear the Wind Sing clocks in at all of 130 pages, and Pinball, 1973 isn’t much longer. That will leave only one spot for 2013. No struggle this year!

I’m also making myself blog immediately after each of these novels because I think they’d run together if I didn’t. I only have vague memories of any of them. I generally liked all of them, but I don’t think they’re Murakami’s best by any means. Same goes for Hear the Wind Sing this time around.

It’s about an unnamed college kid at home for summer break. He hangs out with a friend, who he calls the Rat, at a bar, meets a girl and has an interesting relationship with her, and reminisces. That’s really about it. There’s no adventure, no quest. It’s not really a coming-of-age story, though it has those elements. How much can you get done in 130 tiny pages? Hear the Wind Sing is really more then length of a novella, and a short one at that.

But it’s good! Not Murakami’s best, as I’ve said, but it’s certainly worth reading. Murakami generally isn’t very quotable (but is that the translation?), but there’s some really good stuff here. For example:

“There’s something I want to ask you. May I?”
“Go right ahead.”
“Why do people die?”
“Because they’re evolving. The individual cannot withstand the energy required to evolve, so successive generations have to take up where their predecessors leave off, one after another. Of course, this is only one theory.”

The conversation continues. I think that’s an interesting idea. That’s not something I’ve investigated, and I think I might be to old to do that now. But that’s neither here nor there.

If you like Murakami and can get your hands on a copy of Hear the Wind Sing, give it a try. If you haven’t read Murakami before, don’t make this the first. My first was Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, though the consensus seems to be that Norwegian Wood is an easier entry, especially if you’re not into magical realism. Lots of people seem to like Wild Sheep Chase, too, though, but I’ll talk about that one when I get there.

2013 Book #45: Damned

damnedDamned isn’t my first brush with Palahniuk: I tried to read Haunted a few years ago, and I read Lullaby and blogged about it in 2011. He’s most famous for Fight Club, but that’s Not My Kind of Thing. I’ve seen snippets of the movie. I didn’t remember much about Lullaby, except that I generally liked it, but on rereading my so-long-ago review, I see a huge trend.

Damned is about thirteen-year-old Madison Spencer, who ends up dead and in Hell. She’s the child of movie people, and she’s grown up in a phony (shoutout to Holden!), hippie, liberal household – the sort I’d expect Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s kids are experiencing at this very moment. Palahniuk goes back and forth between the present (Hell) and the past (how she got there). She ends up meeting some other dead teenagers who take her on a tour involving seas of toenail clippings and partial-birth abortions: things you might imagine finding in Hell. She meets famous people who we’d imagine might be there. Yes, this is sounding a bit like Dante. She also works in a phone bank, which is responsible for all of the dinnertime spam phone calls around the world. She says she’s addicted to hope and tries to overcome said addiction until she finally gives up and takes action. Then More Things Happen.

So here’s what Damned has in common with Lullaby: it’s fun, highlarious in parts, but preachy. It seems more like an inspirational YA novel than an adult one. It’s like Palahniuk was trying to write said YA novel but couldn’t help and put some…X-rated…stuff in. Lots of parents would complain. Lots. I’d let my older teenager read it, but hey, I’d be proud of having a literate child at all.

Anyway, the message is Take Charge of Your Destiny because You Can Be Whoever You Want to Be, and You Shouldn’t Wait until You’re Dead. And such. Teenagers.

That said, just like Lullaby, I enjoyed Damned except for the preachy bits, at which I rolled my eyes. Most of the time I was giggling, sometimes laughing aloud. It’s really funny, and it’s well-written. I wouldn’t expect someone like Palahniuk to write preachy novels, but I’d imagine Fight Club is equally messagy. Otherwise, it’s a great book.

I think I checked Damned out of the library when it was first published, but I didn’t read it. The blurb sounded interesting, but I eventually forgot about it until recently, when I somehow won a copy of Doomed, the second in what I’ve learned is a series, in a drawing on Riffle’s Sci-Fi TumblrDoomed sounds exciting, but I figured that I should read Damned first. I’ll read Doomed soon, as I really enjoyed Damned despite its sometimes-annoying preachiness.

Oh! There’s a super-gross (but funny!) part about a quarter into the novel, so I tweeted this comment:

And whoever runs Chuck Palahniuk’s account retweeted me! Which means that my phone blew up for a while with favorites and retweets from more ardent fans. Exciting!

2013 Book #44: A Feast for Crows

feastforcrowsI know I’ve said before that I’m entirely addicted to A Song of Ice and Fire. I really can’t help myself. I love these books. Reading so many long books, though, is getting me into crunch time if I’m going to make fifty by the end of the year. Which means I’m going to force myself to read a string of shorter books when I’d really rather be reading It. But that’s another matter.

So. A Feast for Crows is really half of a book. George R.R. Martin even says as much in an afterward, which begins,

“Hey, wait a minute!” some of you may be saying about now. “Wait a minute, wait a minute! Where’s Dany and the dragons? Where’s Tyrion? We hardly saw Jon Snow. That can’t be all of it…”

Yep. No Daenerys, no Tyrion, no Wall. no Stannis. I was anxiously waiting for the rest of the characters to make an appearance, but they never did. Which, really, is fine. Not long ago, someone told me that Game of Thrones slows down in the fourth book, and it certainly does, but not in a bad way. I was surprised at how few deaths there were, especially after A Storm of Swords, which was downright ridiculous.

And here’s the spoiler alert. In no particular order, here are the events of note: Arya is in Braavos, a novice at the House of White and Black, alternately spending her time there and selling cockles, and the like, to the locals. Sam, Maester Aemon, Gilly, her baby (well, not hers), and a singer-turned-crow whose name I don’t remember are headed for Oldtown (to the Citadel), but the end up in Braavos for a while. Arya knows what the singer is up to and, apparently, slits his throat. Maester Aemon dies there. They were fleeing Melisandre because some of them had royal blood, and she wants to wake a dragon. But that was the last book. Riverrun is taken after a long siege. Brienne goes searching for Sansa but ends up tried and killed by Zombie Catelyn Stark. Cersei is up to her usual mischief but just might get her comeuppance soon, though I’m not expecting that in the next book, as she probably won’t be in that one much at all. But who knows! Sansa is still at the Eyrie, pretending to be Littlefinger’s daughter. The Dornishmen have been active, and we learn that a Dornish princess was promised to marry Daenerys’s brother before all hell broke loose. And Myrcella got her ear cut off. At the end of the book, Jaime got a raven from Cersei, who was begging him to save her in a trial by combat because the new High Septon finally decided that she should be punished, but he tore up the paper and threw it in the fire.

Okay, end of spoiler. That’s all I can think of right now, but There Was Much Mischief, as usual.

I think this will be my last Game of Thrones book for the year, as I need to finish my fifty. I’m waffling back and forth on whether I’m going to set that goal for next year, though I think it does make me read more, which has been the goal after I got through 2010 having read only twenty, or so, books. And I’ve certainly worked some long ones in this year. Now, though, since I’m so close, I’m going with more reasonably-sized books until I hit the fifty, and then I’ll make a decision.

2013 Book #42: Facing the Music

larrybrownLarry Brown has been on my radar for a few months, thanks to my friend Jacob, who clued me into a Youtube preview of a documentary about him. I was intrigued: Here’s this guy from the sticks of Mississippi, a firefighter, who sits down one day and decides to become a writer. He claims a room in his house, pulls out a typewriter, and does just that. He writes and writes and writes, then sends off stories that aren’t accepted anywhere, then continues to write until they are. Here’s the video:

The DVD itself is pretty hard to find. I ordered through my library’s ILL system, then invited Jacob over to watch it. It’s a great documentary, though they have dramatizations of a few of his stories that go on way too long.

Anyway. Facing the Music is a collection of ten stories, most of which are fantastic. The only one I didn’t like was “The Rich,” about a travel agent booking vacations for rich people. My favorite, I think, is “Julie: A Memory,” which tells multiple stories at once, sentence by sentence, about a rape and teenage love. “Boy and Dog” is another good one (it’s dramatized in the documentary), about a boy who sees his dog run over. What happens is shocking. The story is especially interesting because, like “Julie: A Memory,” it’s experimental: it looks like a poem, one sentence a line, with five words in each sentence.

The kid got his dog.
The dog was messed up.
One of his eyes protruded.
Tire tracks were on him.
He was starting to stiffen.
All right then young man.
I’ll put these Doritos up.
She didn’t hear him yelling.
He couldn’t yell very loud.

And so on. It’s a great story. So are the rest of them.

I’m not sure whether I’m more interested in Brown’s writing or his life. He seems like such an unlikely candidate for much of a reader, let alone a fantastic writer. Part of the documentary is filmed in their kitchen, his wife, with her strong Mississippi accent, talking about all the time he’d spend in bars while other family members mill about, drinking beer. Part is also filmed outside, Brown and his wife sitting on lawn furniture, Brown holding an old plastic gas station cup and talking about the dog. It’s fascinating.

I guess my recommendation, here, is to watch the documentary if you can get your hands on it. His writing is great, but having an idea of who he was makes it even better. (Yes, was.) This collection is all I’ve read of him, but I’ll probably pick up one of his novels sometime soon.

Fear Street, y’all. I’ve got a story.

rlstineI figured that since today is R.L. Stine‘s 70th birthday, I’d revisit what is quite possibly my favorite series ever. (Okay, as I said that, I thought about Harry Potter, but are they really in the same league? I’ll qualify my statement: Fear Street was my favorite series when I was the proper age to be reading it. There.) I don’t know what happened to my vast collection of those books, but I do have one: a copy of The Knife that I found in a box of giveaway books when I was teaching in Coushatta. I didn’t read it (though I’m sure I read it when I was a kid), but it’s sitting on a bookshelf at my house, and I smile every time I see it.

I don’t remember any of them clearly, though I remember the covers of a few like The Wrong Number, Broken Hearts, and Silent Night.


And do I have a Fear Street story:

I was twelve or thirteen and was in the Denver airport by myself. I’d been skiing at Aspen with my family, but I had to leave early to get back to school after Christmas break. My dad had decided that I was old enough – and had flown enough – to make my way through the airport, find my gate, and get on the plane. I would have done all of those things successfully if not for R.L. Stine.

I went up to the ticket counter, got my boarding pass, and got through security. I made it to my gate and sat down, facing away from the gate itself, but well within earshot of any announcements. There would be a bit of a wait, so I started reading. I wish I remember which Fear Street book it was. No headphones were involved – I thought I was being smart about this alone-in-the-airport thing. I read for a while, and when I looked up and around toward the announcement board by the gate, my plane’s boarding time was gone. I have no idea how long I’d been reading. I stood up, grabbed my backpack, and rushed to the gate, only to find out that the plane had just left.

I thought my dad would kill me.

I went to the nearest pay phone (it was the early ’90s!) and called my dad. He wasn’t quite as angry as I thought he would be. He told me to go back to the ticket counter. When I’d been there the first time, a really nice lady had helped me. I was just over the age that I’d have to be escorted everywhere, and I’d been kind of proud of doing it on my own. She told me that if I had any problems to come straight back to her. Instead, I stood in the long line, praying that I ended up with someone else because I was so embarrassed. After waiting quite a while, I ended up back in front of her because that’s always the way things go. She told me that the next plane out was 6 hours later and that I’d have to land in New Orleans instead of Shreveport, which was fine because I could stay with my sister for the night. She also asked if I had money for a meal and gave me a voucher when I explained that I’d spent all of my money on a Denver Broncos sweatshirt for my cat. (I’ve never been a Broncos fan…)

After that ordeal, I ate, found my new gate, and sat right in front of it, facing it this time, and stared forward until it opened, hardly blinking. I made it onto that plane and eventually got home.

These days, it appears, R.L. Stine is better known for his Goosebumps series, which was aimed at kids younger than I was at the time. I don’t think I read any of those, and I wasn’t a fan of the TV series, though I can’t help but post that ubiquitous meme photo here:


I stand by Fear Street.

This series made up the bulk of my reading between ages 11 and 14, which is funny because I don’t read anything like them anymore. I don’t like horror novels, and I generally don’t like pop fiction series (Game of Thrones is a notable exception, of course. And Hunger Games. I’ll shut up now.). I must have read other books around that time, but I don’t remember any of them. Before Fear Street was The Baby-Sitters Club, and before that was…what?

My parents tell me that I read a lot.

This nostalgia-fest almost makes me want to dive back in, but I know that would be a mistake. I loved Fear Street so much when I was a kid, but I bet I’d lose my fondness for them if I read them again. They make a good story, though.

And happy birthday, R.L. Stine!

Update: R.L. Stine is bringing Fear Street back for Halloween 2014!

2013 Book #43: MaddAddam

maddaddamI’m getting behind again. I really need to make a habit of writing about a book right after I finish reading it, which is what I’m doing now. Before I write something about Larry Brown’s collection of short stories, which I read first. But that’s neither here nor there.

MaddAddam is the final book in a trilogy by Margaret Atwood, preceded by Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, both of which I read and loved. In 2011. That was a while ago, so my memory of them is a bit hazy. I think I would have enjoyed MaddAddam even more if I’d reread those two first for a refresher, though Atwood is good about sprinkling little reminders where they’re needed.

I won’t give much of a summary of this one because, well, it’s the third of a trilogy, and if you haven’t read the first two, it would be full of spoilers. All I’ll say is that Atwood fleshes out the backstory of the other two novels and offers a somewhat satisfying resolution to the story by joining the plots, which seemed so separate before. And by “satisfying,” I don’t mean good or bad – or ambivalent. (See? No spoilers this time! I just had a reader complain…) It’s almost a Breaking Bad (I know) sort of resolution. That’s all I’ll say.

So. MaddAddam is good and worth a read. Margaret Atwood is almost always good and worth a read (I’m not a fan of The Penelopiad, but I think I’ve liked everything else). Don’t read this one if you haven’t read Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood because this trilogy is more like one novel in a Lord of the Rings sort of way. Best of all, read them in one go.

I guess I can’t really talk about this one enough without connecting it to the other two, so read those reviews and consider this a continuation. I even reread them and didn’t change my mind.

(Okay, here’s a better summary for my benefit, since this blog is really for my benefit because I’m terrible at remembering what I’ve read. So spoiler alert for all you complainers out there. It’s narrated by Toby, one of the Gardeners. They’ve rescued Snowman/Jimmy, who was just about dead from a foot infection. The Painballers – think Hunger Games, but with criminals – escaped, thanks to the Crakers, after they raped Amanda. The Crakers also had their way with most of the women, but no one really seems to consider it rape. The Gardeners and the others move into a compound and make a deal with anthromorphized pigs to help kill the Painballers, and they go on an adventure to do just that. And we get more of the backstory from Zeb, who explains how everyone knew each other before the Waterless Flood. And so on.)

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